‘Don’t Ask Me How Many People I’ve Killed.’ HP Reveals the Awful Questions Asked to Veterans

The brand highlights bias in the job-interview process

U.S. Navy veteran Bridget Dolan tells employers to ask the right interview questions in new HP ad. HP
Headshot of Doug Zanger

Since its launch last year, HP’s “Reinvent Mindsets” campaign has shown how unconscious bias negatively impacts talent. Powerful and moving ads targeting the African-American, female, LGBTQ and Latino communities have demonstrated the range of issues each face, whether it’s in the workplace or life. The brand continues to tackle the issues head-on with a commitment to diversity and inclusion that is proving to be among the best in the tech industry.

In a new ad released today, HP shows the bias that America’s military veterans can endure in the recruiting and interview process. “Ask Me About,” a film around 2 minutes created by Badgers and Winters, starts with veterans discussing their roles in the service. One was an aviation electronic technician, another was a medic and one was a signals intelligence analyst in the Marine Corps for five years. What’s revealed is the shocking insensitivity that interviewers exhibit by asking questions around veterans’ service.

In an interesting twist, participants at the beginning of the ad don’t necessarily suggest what questions should be asked but, instead, what questions not to ask. “Don’t ask me how many people I’ve killed,” says Bridget Dolan, a U.S. Navy veteran who is then followed by others who mention PTSD, mental health and other topics to stay away from. From there, the subjects then offer constructive advice on what to ask, with two HP veteran employees pointing out that relevant questions will be asked by the company because “we know the veteran experience and the issues you face during interviews.”

Part of the insight for the ad came from a 2016 study that indicated one in six veterans were asked an inappropriate question during a civilian job interview. One of the most common inquiries was whether or not they had killed someone during combat. HP went deeper to better understand veterans and what was being missed in the talent and recruiting process. While 76 percent of companies, in a 2017 Edelman survey, indicated that they wanted to hire more veterans, most have misconceptions about their education levels, job skills and potential for success.

“We learned that employers have a hard time connecting active military work to civilian work,” says Lesley Slaton Brown, HP’s chief diversity officer. “The skills that veterans bring—like leadership, teamwork, camaraderie, problem-solving and tenacity—are phenomenal.”

For its part, the brand sought to hire 150 veterans a year ago and is a goal that was achieved. HP currently employs veterans in 40 U.S. states spanning all businesses with top functions including services, engineering, engineering services, sales, supply chain and operations.

Additionally, the Silicon Valley giant created the Veterans Hiring Invitational recruiting program that provides a direct line to hiring managers and was the title sponsor for the Silicon Valley Veterans Summit where the brand participated in a conversation around integration into the civilian workforce. According to Slaton Brown, this is only the beginning and keeping momentum is crucial, and not just for the veteran community.

“One of the greatest things is that veterans help us get more veterans,” she notes, pointing out the domino effect of having strong internal advocates for external communities that are sometimes overlooked. “African-Americans help us get more African-Americans, women help us get more women and so on.”

Indeed, according to Slaton Brown, the approach and consistency appear to be working with a 150 percent increase in applications when one of the “Reinventing Mindsets” campaign messages are released.

“But it has to be true, authentic and around our brand values and business,” she says. “And, ultimately, we’re striving to be that destination of choice for underrepresented groups and women in technology.”


Agency: Badger & Winters
Founder/Chief Creative Officer: Madonna Badger
President: Jim Winters
EVP, Group Creative Director: Clark Fisher
Executive Producer: Celeste Holt-Walters
Senior Producer: Julie Amenta
Art Directors: Allyson Hickey, Emily Hallewell, Emma Kasarsky
Directors: Ghost + Cow
Production Company: JHF Productions
Executive Producer: Renee Krumweide
Producer: Theo Brooks
Director of Photographer: Bryant Fisher
Casting: David Milosevich
Editor: David Johnson
Post Executive Producer: Joanne Ferraro

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@zanger doug.zanger@adweek.com Doug Zanger is a senior editor, agencies at Adweek, focusing on creativity and agencies.